In the second of our series of interviews with Master’s students, Itzel Gracian Oritz reveals her biggest professional challenge and how it transformed her career possibilities.

As a colleague in a 5-Star hotel, Itzel Gracian Oritz had to ensure she was offering guests a premium service. “One of the biggest professional challenges for me was when I had to do the sommelier test”, she said.

“I used to work in a ski-resort in Aspen, Colorado which has a five-star hotel and I worked in the restaurant. This was a very famous restaurant and it was very important to have qualified people who know the wine, so they had this huge wine program that we could do and get certified.”

Learning from failure

Seeing an opportunity to add to her skillset and provide a better service, Itzel took on the challenge to become a certified sommelier. “The first level of this test you pass in the restaurant, and then if you want to do the next level, you have to study yourself, taste two wines, say where they are from, which grape, which year of vintage are they and so on.”

“I decided to do the test and I failed the first time. I realized that I needed to study more, so what I did was:

– I set the schedule for the grading part.
I spoke to people who are also interested in wine so that we can share ideas and help each other with the grapes and other elements.
– I found people who were also preparing for the test, so that we could split the cost of the wine because to taste the wine, you have to open many bottles!”

Gaining expertise and techniques

As well as developing a knowledge of oenology, Itzel also had to learn the practicals too. “You need to know how to properly open a bottle of champagne, present it and serve it”, she said. “Obviously, you are not allowed to have the bottle popping and you are supposed to split the whole bottle equally in the six glasses in front of you, which is not simple with the bubbles, trust me.”

“While you’re doing that, they ask you which drink you would combine with certain types of food. But it is not as simple as “you drink dry white wine with the fish”, you are supposed to say which year and which brand exactly you would suggest.”

Investing and collaborating

Like all true professionals, Itzel saw the value in investing in her development. “At the beginning, I was just tasting the wines in the restaurant, then I needed to taste something different”, she commented. “I found a wine rep who was organizing wine tasting for different restaurants and always had a bit of leftover.”

“He would sell me a case for around $100 and I would split the cost with the other people who were preparing for the sommelier test. Then we would help each other to taste the wine and discuss what we all learnt.”

“Once I felt I was ready, I finally went to the second evaluation, and this time I passed everything!”

Driven by passion and promotion

There were two factors that motivated Itzel to pursue her sommelier certification. “First, I am very passionate about wine and I like learning about it”, she said. “Second, I realized that if I had this certification, I would have a chance to be promoted to a supervisory role, so I thought that it would be a competitive advantage.”

“The restaurant asked me to train the staff and I was also able to step up when the main sommelier was not there. After this, they promoted me to Bar Supervisor and then Restaurant Assistant Manager. After a few years, I realized that I need more knowledge about the management and numbers, less operational, so I decided to come to Glion and study.”

Thank you to Itzel Gracian Oritz for taking the time to share her sommelier certification challenge. It’s proof of what can be achieved when you combine hard work with passion and ambition. Be sure to check back soon for the third interview in this series, as Toshinari Yasuki reveals what it took to get into Glion.

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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